Everyone who thought 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s blockbuster contract would set the market for Seahawks QB Russell Wilson can pretty much forget that.
Based on a detailed breakdown of Kaepernick’s deal by Pro Football Talk, Wilson’s agent might just want to throw out the Kaepernick agreement — which is as much of a prove-it deal as you will find and doesn’t come with the same kind of real guarantees many of the other recent quarterback megadeals have.
Kaepernick’s agent will call it a six-year extension worth $126 million — $20 million a year. But it is really a seven-year deal that, at best, is worth $127 million — $18.1 million per year. And the more realistic number is $16 million per year. Not that any of those numbers are anything more than window dressing.
Guaranteed money is what really counts on these big contracts, and the only guaranteed money for Kaepernick at this point reportedly is the $13 million he will receive in 2014. The rest of his salaries over the next few years are guaranteed on a yearly basis — which is different than most of the big QB deals over the past couple of years, which pay huge signing bonuses and guarantee big chunks within the first three years.
In 2012, New Orleans QB Drew Brees received $60 million guaranteed over the first three years. In 2013, Atlanta QB Matt Ryan received $57 million guaranteed and $63 million in the first three years; Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers received $54 million guaranteed and $62.5 million in the first three years; and Baltimore QB Joe Flacco got $52 million in guarantees and $62 million in the first three years.
Wilson’s agent, Bus Cook, surely will use those deals for comparison as he angles to make Wilson a $20 million-per-year player and get him at least $50 million guaranteed.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks almost certainly are not going to structure Wilson’s contract with the protections the 49ers used. The Hawks undoubtedly have more confidence in Wilson — their mature, clutch Super Bowl leader — than the 49ers just showed in Kaepernick, and Wilson’s contract surely will reflect that.
John Schneider and Matt Thomas use a pretty simple contract structure, and there is no reason to think they will veer from that on the Wilson deal.
They did three big contracts this offseason. All-Pro defensive backs Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas received very simple deals that included $20.5 million in signing bonuses and guaranteed salaries within the next three years. Michael Bennett received an $8 million signing bonus and also has per-game roster bonuses in 2016 and 2017.
That’s about as fancy as the Seahawks typically get. Don’t expect them to ask Wilson to take out a $20 million insurance policy or to pay back money if he isn’t an All-Pro or doesn’t lead the Hawks to the Super Bowl. He might end up with incentives for those things, but not de-escalators, as Kaepernick’s deal reportedly has.
The Hawks almost surely will stick to their MO and give Wilson a pretty standard structure. The only question is length. They went short on all of their deals this offseason and no one on the team is signed beyond 2018. Wilson will become the first; the only question is whether it will be a four-year extension that takes him through 2019 or a five-year deal through 2020 (we’re guessing the latter).
Like most of these deals, the “per year” boast by the agent will come from the extension portion of the deal, and some speculate that Wilson could command $25 million a year. That is pretty exorbitant, but the Hawks could end up paying close to that and it still would average $20 million a year over the full contract.
Example: The Hawks could give Wilson a six-year deal worth $120 million, with a $30 million signing bonus, a low 2015 salary that would keep his cap hit under $10 million and then escalating salaries/cap numbers that make the five extension years worth $115 million.
Such a deal would guarantee close to $60 million in the first three years and result in these salaries/cap hits:
$12M/$18M in 2016
$15M/$21M in 2017
$20M/$26M in 2018-19
$20M/$20M in 2020
As long as the salary cap continues to rise, the Hawks probably could manage those numbers.
They could even do an extension for $125 million over five years, but what would the point be? Wilson might play four years before his cap charge goes over $30 million and that deal is torn up in favor of a more cap-friendly contract.
Even if the salary cap continues to jump by 8 percent for the next few years, teams still have to pay other players — they can’t use 15 percent or more of their cap on the QB for long and still hope to remain a contender.
Fortunately, Wilson is a reasonable guy and a team player and he won’t be looking to break the bank to stay in Seattle.
The Seahawks aren’t going to offer him anything like the prove-yourself-every-year deal Kaepernick signed with the 49ers, and as long as the Hawks put Wilson in the same area code as more accomplished QBs such as Brees and Rodgers, it’s hard to imagine him complaining.